Artist Jack Davis has exhibited nationally and internationally and is a popular teacher at Newlyn School of Art. Combining a variety of marks, textures and layers Jack creates an immersive and expressive response to the Cornish coastline. We join Jack and eight students on his Expressive Landscape Course
“Landscape isn’t static,” Jack begins: “It’s not just a beautiful thing out there to pin down on paper, it’s a living, organic thing, influenced by weather or our own feelings at the moment we are looking at it. I want to create in paint a true sense of what I am experiencing – it’s a language all of its own.” He is crouched next to a large sheet of brown paper, making bold marks with charcoal and chalk. His movements are fast and physical; each line and mark made with purpose.
We look on, huddled beside a rocky outcrop at Pendeen, it is a bright, clear day but we are facing a fierce wind that is blowing straight towards us off the Atlantic. It’s a spectacular location. Beneath us, the sea is being driven against the rocks. Sea spray stings our eyes.
“All I’m feeling here is the wind, rushing at me,” Jack says. “I want to create that sensation in my drawing.” He picks up an eraser and sweeps it purposefully across the paper, then goes over the whole thing again with charcoal. His energy is infectious.
Moments later he throws his sketch to one side. A loosely-captured landscape is barely visible behind dynamic dark black lines. “Your turn!” he laughs. We’re challenged to spend no more than 2 to 5 minutes on each drawing. “Keep them coming!” Jack shouts over the wind. “Don’t get caught up in the detail. Just get the feeling of it down on paper.”
It’s liberating. Using directional marks on huge pieces of paper, we work quickly to try and capture the interplay between light and dark, drama and stillness. One after another sketches are roughed out. It’s quick-fire and great fun. I use my stick of charcoal so enthusiastically that it breaks. “I love that sound!” Jack enthuses beside me. “It’s the sound of charcoal being used properly!”
The following day we head out to another dramatic part of the coast. Remnants of tin mines cling to the cliffs, sea surging below. This post-industrial, yet wild landscape is what drew Jack to Cornwall. It’s easy to see how he became so inspired by this area. Today we are to paint directly onto board, creating preparatory sketches for oil paintings we’ll work up later. Broad brushstrokes are encouraged, as are bold uses of colour.
Red-cheeked and windswept, we head back to the school studio in Newlyn. “Time to get messy!” Jack grins, pouring paint directly onto one of his drawings, obliterating some beautiful mark-making. Some of us wince. “It’s important not to get precious about our work” he tells us. “The excitement in art is to experiment, and to push the boundaries of what we’d normally do.” We follow suit, and over the coming days the results are anything but what we may have expected. For many of us it’s a radical departure from how we would usually approach sketching or painting. It’s been challenging at times, but rewarding and enormously fun too. From the smiles among our group I can sense a lot more sticks of charcoal will be broken from now on.
Words by Kari Herbert
Find out more information and up-coming dates for the five day Expressive Landscape course